Smythson: a gift for my brother

I’ve cheerfully given my big brother many terrible gifts over the years. He turned 30 this month and I knew I had to take this gift-giving event seriously.

My initial thought was to upgrade his backpack to a briefcase. I floated the idea but he didn’t seem keen. He said it’s easier to carry school books in a backpack than in a briefcase (he’s a teacher, not a 30-year-old weirdo).

My next thought was a wallet from Smythson. It was such a good thought that I literally went with it. I went with my thought to Smythson and selected this wallet.

It’s a fitting gift for my brother. A Smythson product doesn’t overstate itself and neither does my brother. He’s basically a genius but he isn’t proud or conceited. He hates anything flashy, faddy or over-the-top and a brand with a heritage felt like another box ticked for a history teacher.  

My top gifts from Smythson 

BEFORE & AFTER 

Throwback Thursday: a gift from Byron's wild antelope

‘We that are true lovers run into strange capers’ says Touchstone in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

And nowhere can odd behaviour between lovers be demonstrated better than in a particular gift exchange between Lady Caroline Lamb and the Romantic poet, Lord Byron, whom she appropriately called ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know'. 

The two started a scandalous affair in 1812. Lady Caroline was already married to the man who would later become the prime minister, Lord Melbourne. Byron didn’t exactly have an unblemished reputation.

In August of 1812 Lady Caroline sent a letter to Byron and enclosed a lock (I’m not sure that’s the right term) of her public hair. 

With the lock/tuft she wrote:

Caroline Byron

Next to Thyrsa dearest & most faithful - God bless you own love - Ricordati Di Biondetta

From your Wild Antelope.

Lady Caroline was never Caroline Byron except in her wishful thinking. Biondetta is a character from Spanish fantasy romance novel, Le diable amoureux, published in 1772. Biondetta is the devil in disguise who seduces protagonist Alvaro. She writes ‘Ricordati Di Biondetta’ - remember Biondetta. Perhaps in doing so, she is reminding Byron of her seductive powers over him.  I love that she signs off ‘Your Wild Antelope’. 

In an accompanying letter she writes:

‘I asked you not to send blood but Yet do – because if it means love I like to have it. I cut the hair too close & bled much more than you need – do not you the same & pray put not scissors points near where quei capelli grow – sooner take it from the arm or wrist – pray be careful….’

Lady Caroline is asking for Byron to send a love token in return, she doesn’t mind blood but she doesn’t want him to do himself too great an injury. The ‘quei capelli’ or ‘that hair’, indicates that she doesn’t want him to injure his private parts in the extraction. She instead suggest his arm or wrist.

Ah, love. 

Throwback Thursday: The gifts of Jane Austen

I've rather grandly entitled this blog post 'The Gifts of Jane Austen'. I don't want to mislead you, this isn't an exhaustive list. Just three gifts of note.

Jane Austen famously dedicated her novel Emma to the Prince Regent in 1816.

A book dedication wins serious gift-giving points but I don't think it counts as a gift. I reason thusly: in 1815, James Stanier Clarke, librarian to the Prince Regent wrote to Austen suggesting in an it's-up-to-you-but-I-would-but-only-if-you'd-like-but-you'd-better kind of way:

It is certainly not incumbent on you to dedicate your work now in the Press to His Royal Highness: but if you wish to do the Regent that honour either now or at any future period, I am happy to send you that permission which need not require any more trouble or solicitation on your Part.

It is unlikely that Austen would have dedicated the novel to him of her own volition, given that she she said she 'hated' him in a letter to her friend Martha Lloyd in 1813.

The other gift associated with Austen is the topaz cross given to her by her sea-faring brother Henry.

jane austen topaz necklace

Henry actually bought two topaz crosses (pictured above) for Jane and sister Cassandra with prize money from his activity in the Navy. Jane's is the one on the left.

The crosses are mentioned in a letter between the sisters:

“[Charles] has received 30 pounds for his share of the privateer & expects 10 pounds more–but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters.  He has been buying Gold chains & Topaze Crosses for us;–he must be well scolded.”

Letter from Jane Austen to Cassandra (May 27, 1801)

Jane's cross assumes an alias in the novel Mansfield Park. Fanny’s brother William gives her an amber cross, which, in Cinderella-style, only her true love’s chain can pass through.

And then there is this, a humble paper needle case.

It was made by Jane Austen as a gift to her niece, Louisa Knight.

It features foliage detail in watercolour on the front and it is inscribed to Lousia 'With Aunt Jane's love'. 

We know very little of Jane Austen's internal life and as a result, she tends to be mythologised. She is viewed as a woman who was somehow unfulfilled for never having found her own hero with whom she could fall in love and marry. But this needle case, more specifically the inscription 'with Aunt Jane's love'  is evidence that love and affection most certainly filled and fulfilled her life and she certainly wasn't passive, or a loser, in the exchange of love.

I like it because this paper needle case was hers to give freely. It wasn't coerced out of her by a prince and it didn't require an allowance from a man to finance it.

You can view it at the Jane Austen Museum in Hampshire. I visited recently with my aunt-in-law who lives in the area and loved it. You can see the topaz crosses on display there too.


Jane Austen House Museum
Chawton, 
Alton, 
Hampshire
GU34 1SD
01420 83262

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: The Rose Ring

Rose Ring | Laughing Heart

This gold ring was found by archaeologists during the excavation of site of the Rose Theatre on London’s Bankside in 1989, some 400 years after it was lost.

Shakespeare’s plays were performed at the Rose during his lifetime. The Museum of London estimates that the ring was made in 1592 and might be French in origin. The Rose was torn down in around 1606.

The owner of this ring will never be known, but I think it’s safe to say that it was a gift.

It is engraved with the French inscription  'PENCES POVR MOYE DV'. The letters ‘DV’ stand for the Latin ‘Deo Volente’ and the inscription translates as ‘Think of me God willing’. It’s unlikely you’d give yourself a ring with that inscription.

It also features a heart with two arrows through it, symbolic of lovesickness. I'm beginning to think that the giver was extremely romantic verging on desperate.

I wonder how it came to be lost. Perhaps it was thrown away in a fit of pique by a wronged lover or maybe a nervous audience member fiddled with the ring throughout a performance and it fell off their lap and through the wooden slats. I wonder if it's owner was a woman or a man. 

The engraving seems crudely done, the inscription has been punched with such force that there are holes in the ring. It makes me feel like it’s the kind of thing a young lover would give. 

You can buy a replica of the ring here. 

Throwback Thursday: Wallis Simpson's Cartier bracelet

This bracelet was a gift from Edward VIII to Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom he gave up the throne.

Made by Cartier, it has nine gem-set crosses, each signifying (and engraved with) important moments in their lives between 1933 to 1934.

It was put up for auction in 2010 and sold for £601,250.

Their marriage is commemorated on one of the crosses.

One cross is engraved with the message: "God save the King For Wallis". This refers to an assassination attempt on Edward (known as David to Wallis).

I’m not sure I’d want a permanent reminder of the time someone tried to kill my husband, but as he survived it, I suppose that makes him seem invincible. But apparently his would-be assassin had a tendency to throw the guns at his targets rather than pulling the trigger.

Another cross bears the message "The Kings Cross". This marks the time in 1936 that, after an argument between the couple, Simpson flagged down a taxi and said "King's Cross" to the driver. "I'm sorry lady," he replied. 

I like this bracelet. I mean, it’s not exactly my taste, but I like what it represents: real people with real feelings wanting to remember.

Wallis Simpson gift | Laughing Heart

Wedding gifts & British brands

We went to Italy last weekend to celebrate the marriage of my husband’s university friend.

Dolce, Gabbana and Tornatorne made it a long-term ambition of mine to attend an Italian wedding. I had a vision of myself in a full-skirted lace midi-dress twirling down a narrow street. Thanks to a dress on sale from Whistles, I made it happen. 

When we got married, the happy couple gave us some Lisa Corti table linen (similar below) which is awesome. You can’t find it in London, the colours are bright and beautiful. It showed that they put in some thought.

I was informed by my husband that there was ‘no way’ the couple would have a gift list. So I spent hours coming up with ideas for gifts that were made in the UK. The bar was set high.

After a good few hours of brainstorming, I visited their wedding website and discovered that they did have a gift list (contributions to their honeymoon).

So that my ideas aren’t wasted, here are my top five British brands:

SMYTHSON

This 125-year-old luxury brand was favoured by Winston Churchill, Sigmund Freud and the Maharajahs of India. The products are elegantly designed and well-made. Gift options are abundant: from leather-backed notebooks to jewellery boxes, all in beautiful colours, 

WEDGWOOD

I remember learning about Josiah Wedgwood in history class and thinking that this would be as interested in ceramics as I'd ever be. How times have changed. Wedgwood isn't just about blue and white china. The recent collaboration with Jasper Conran is supreme and worth marvelling over. The plates from the Butterfly Bloom collect (pictured below) are also awesome. 

JOHNSONS OF ELGIN

I dare anyone to find a better Cashmere shop. 

CHAPEL DOWN

The UK isn't generally known for it's sparkling wine but it should be. Award-winning Chapel Down is based in Kent and produces sparkling and white wines, beer and cider. The CEO says on their website: 'I passionately believe that there is no point in just trying to be the best. We have to be the only people who can do what we do.'  

LIBERTYS OF LONDON

Liberty prints are unique. I can't find out if they produce table linen, but I'm sure it wouldn't be a big job to buy and hem some of their material to make a statement tablescape. The range is enormous. The range of styles and colours is vast.

What brands would you recommend? Comment below!

Check out my Best of British Pinterest board.